MAN ON MAN – the new project from real life lovers Joey Holman (HOLMAN) and Roddy Bottum (Faith No More, Imperial Teen) – released its first effort, a self-titled album last week. Suffice it to say that it is stuffed full of indie-rock distortion and radiating gay pop confidence, while still maintaining a familiarity that allows both personalities to shine.
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It is hard not to be captivated by the MAN ON MAN story and appreciate that it transcends what we know of gay music, arriving at exactly the cultural moment that we need them. It also pulls back the curtains and reveals a celebration of tragedy that the two experienced together: from both losing mothers, to a Covid lockdown, and coming out the other side stronger and more optimistic than ever.
The project was self-produced with mix support by Grammy-award winning producer Carlos de la Garza (M83, Paramore, Jimmy Eat World) and Mike Vernon Davis (Foxing, Great Grandpa) — and showcases the duo’s deep intensity of falling in love while mourning. It is an epic collaboration of two lovers that traverse the map of a COVID road trip.
The 12-track first release with Polyvinyl Record Co. and the pair dropped a track-by-track for the readers of American Songwriter. Push play, and give it a read, if you dig that support the guys, here.
(Roddy) This was a departure for us in our writing session for the record. We had started out pretty gently, tentatively almost, having not made music together before. After we had a couple songs under our belt we made the conscious effort to get LOUD. Joey laid down the guitar track in an afternoon and we based the song around that. We started fooling around with some distortion on our vocals. Prior to STOHNER we had been pretty precious about pitch and performance in our vocals but with the distortion we let ourselves go a little bit. Joey wrote his lyrics on the spot, singing about us as we drove across the country. I started singing about cutting Joey’s hair, we were in the process of learning how to give each other haircuts during the quarantine. The keys were the last element we added to the song.
(Joey) This song was the entry point into us feeling like we had the capabilities of achieving big, louder sounds. It helped us write songs like STOHNER, 1983, and Two at a Time mainly because we realized we didn’t have to be stuck to an acoustic guitar/upright piano format. We could explore guitar plug ins, synth sounds, and programmed drum sounds. The way we started it was Roddy creating a bass synth track that was about six minutes long, and then I was left alone with it for a little while. I knew I wanted there to be some chamber-y, chorus-like guitar loops, so I just started there. What was needed next was some structure, which was actually harder than it sounds. We went back and forth with ideas for a while, and we finally decided it was okay to have a long ass song with four verses, a long bridge, and an outro. We eased into multiple guitar and synth parts, heavy vocal stacks, and Motown-like harmonies. This song showed us what was possible for the rest of the record. For the actual lyrics and melodies, Roddy and I would wake up every morning and watch surfers in Ventura. We’d sit at the beach and record vocal ideas into our phones as we looked out onto the open water, and then we’d take those ideas back to the house and work on them. Mike Davis, who mixed this song, re amped the synth parts through an old Fender reverb amp, which gave the parts a more lead guitar type sound. Overall, Daddy is a journey. I always say if someone showed us this song before we started recording everything, I wouldn’t have believed we could do something so big. But, we did, and we’re both immensely proud of where we went with this song.
IT’S SO FUN (TO BE GAY)
(Roddy) This was the last song that we wrote for the record. We wrote it after we left the west coast, where we’d been for the first five months of COVID, after our initial quarantine, after the death of my mother, after the start of the uprising. My mother had just been buried and we were in kind of a dark place. We drove back from California slowly, taking our time, and at the last minute we turned left and headed to Provincetown, putting NYC on hold. If you’re not familiar, Provincetown is a notorious and historical gay mecca, it has tons of history, writers and artists, mostly queer, have made it a place to work and create and live freely with other gay people for a long time. Arriving there in the middle of the pandemic, having come from the riots and marches in Los Angeles and the death of my mom, we were in kind of a politicized mindset. Being with our gay community there, seeing other queers like us who were struggling through the pandemic was heartbreaking yet optimistic and empowering. We set up our instruments in the odd house we were staying in and started exploring with a song about our community and the gratefulness we felt. We hadn’t gone that simple before. It was liberating to deliver a pure and straightforward message. With all the components in front of us, the song kind of wrote itself. We weren’t coy about it. We set out to write a gay anthem.
(Joey) I had the intro/verse guitar idea for a while but I couldn’t figure out a melody over it, nor find a proper way to segue into chorus chords. I decided to embrace the challenge and let it represent the new world we were living. The lyrics are a confession in some way – things aren’t okay but we’ll be okay. It was the first time I had actually addressed any type of realness for how I was feeling. There was a tension that existed in the beach house at times, not because either one of us was creating it, but it was seeping in from the outside world. BEACH HOUSE was a way to let the air out a little bit; let’s just call it what it is, be literal, but lean into what both Roddy and I are good at doing – being optimistic. This is also around the time the weather started warming up a little bit and we went swimming more often, which felt healing in a lot of ways, and that’s also where the lyrics in the bridge came from (“I went into the ocean and I figured it out”). After the song developed structure, something was still off. It felt clunky, it felt like it needed to be faster, my guitar playing was off with the drums a little bit. Roddy’s parts felt in the pocket and lifted everything where it should live, but still something wasn’t right. We decided to look outward for the first time and ask our friend Joey Howard to play bass on it. Once he sent back his parts, it was then we realized the potential of this song. We’re glad it turned out the way it did, because it almost didn’t make the record.
(Roddy) This song came after we’d left the beach and gone to my mother’s house. We recorded the vocals in the living room of her house. I remember the hot Los Angeles heat and the windows being open as we recorded. We took the lyrics to a really literal place. It felt good to sexualize our sentiments in that context. I had a line about ‘fingerfucking’ that we ended up not using. I’d never heard ‘fingerfucking’ in a song and felt like it was a real triumph to stumble onto that lyric but it didn’t work in the song. When I heard the music I remember thinking Sonic Youth, in a good way. Joey worked so long on the guitar parts, when it was my turn to add keyboards I really felt like I had to impress him. I worked really hard at the keyboard part. I remember listening back to it and being totally confused. Like, what had I done? I love it now and it really impressed Joey
BABY, YOU’RE MY EVERYTHING
(Joey) An inside joke that Roddy and I have, that has developed into something almost more serious, is that we use religious language in our everyday lives. Roddy finds it amusing that I grew up in the evangelical church, and as I will often share certain buzzwords from my past Christian days, we’ve adapted them into our own meaning. Roddy was working on this song for a while by himself, and it sounded almost like a hymn. The melodies that soon followed ended up being a queer spiritual, so Roddy just leaned into that. The lyrics are really references from old hymns; the lyrical structures like “From on high,” “This we know,” Angels we have heard on high,” etc. have been almost redefined and reclaimed from their original meanings. It felt fitting, in a tense and scary time, to write a song that felt beautiful, hopeful, and celebrate queer love.
TWO AT A TIME
(Roddy) By the time we started this song we knew we were looking at a full album worth of material. A major part of the scope of the record had gone to a sensitive and gentle place. That felt appropriate considering COVID and what we were going through with my mother and the implications of the uprising. It was a heavy time and the record was definitely representing that. TWO AT A TIME was an attempt to provide some levity and sass. We wrote it for the record but ultimately we wrote it for ourselves. It was after the funeral and I had been playing the piano part on my mom’s old piano in her living room. The vocal parts were a little bit more character driven than the other songs. We set up a back and forth scenario between the two of us and started singing about us meeting and the first time Joey came to my apartment. At least that’s where I was going with it. The chorus, singing about ‘all the possibilities,’ was an attempt to make it through to the other side. We had recently been to a protest march in Los Angeles with my nieces and there was an air of resilience and empowerment that we were trying to channel. The song was a way for us to start moving on. We knew we would be leaving California soon and finishing the record and it felt like a mood of positive foresight that we wanted on the record.
(Joey) This was written during the time when Roddy’s mom’s health started to really decline. We rented a house in LA, and there were several days where Roddy would be taking care of his mom at her house, and I was alone at our rental. It was in my solitude that I felt it necessary to write Roddy a love song, which was almost sort of an answer to Baby, You’re My Everything. I don’t play piano, but I figured out some chords and just put them on loop using Roddy’s mom’s baby grand piano. For the atmospheric foundation that happens, that came about by accident. As it stood, the song sounded “fine,” but it was a little too dry. When I was recording some guitars, I flipped the pickup switch and it made this rhythmic delay sound. I started doing it back and forth to the beat, and it ended up sounding really cool, so I recorded just a track of me switching the pickup knob to create this weird sound underneath everything that was going on. This song to me, more than just the lyrics, is everything I wanted it to sound like. It’s really simple, but sonically it has so much there – I could imagine Feist or Richard Hawley or Leonard Cohen peaking into the recording process giving a thumbs up.
PLEASE BE FRIENDS
(Roddy) This song was one of the first that we recorded. We were in Oxnard, California, in an A frame and I was messing around on the piano that I grew up playing. Joey played with me on his acoustic guitar and we started building the music. We hadn’t done a lot of producing and I remember Joey moving the microphone around the house, listening to the different ways that the piano sounded. The lyrics were reflecting a time of COVID, there was shit-all to do and the acceptance of what the pandemic meant was starting to become apparent. It was a scary place to be, honestly. I started singing about insecurities and my mom and about the process of what Joey and I were doing. It felt dark and in an attempt to get through it I started to sing from a place of pure optimism. I was clinging to the hopeful concept that if we just all remained kind to each other we would get through it.
(Joey) This was also one of the first songs we wrote together, maybe even the very first. We had just finished our trip across the country and this song just fell out of us. It has religious lyrics in the second verse that felt fitting, all another reason to feel like everything I had grown up believing was bullshit. It’s kind of sarcastic, demanding God or whatever to fix the problem with lyrics like “I’m not asking, I’m telling.” The song Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing was one of my favorite hymns growing up, and it felt fitting to change its meaning in a certain way to fit what we were both going through. The lyrics “everything will end” were meant to serve more as optimism, but the way we sing it, it could also feel like Charlie Brown Christmas choir singing during the end of the world. Either meaning ended up feeling right.
(Roddy) This is and was a really weird song to me. It’s really simple and so sparse and bare and vulnerable. I was a little wary of it but Joey felt strongly about including it. It was recorded on the piano in the beach house. There isn’t a lot more to the music track, Joey did some atmospheric guitar and we called it done. The lyric is mostly about a ball. Something really simple and tangible that is a miracle. It’s funny to me, a thing that can bounce, roll, fly and also float. I was trying to tap into the mindset of wonderment in a childlike way at a common object and what it’s physicalness implies in the world. Beyond that I was aiming for representation through symbolism but I intended to that to be interpreted by the listener. It felt apt to end the record with this piece.